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City, state officials beseech federal board to eliminate rail lines



In a state that has seen a steady decline in manufacturing companies, Boardman Inc. still resides in Oklahoma City " but for how long?

Founded in 1910, the company makes industrial equipment in the same 8-acre site in south Oklahoma City where it has for almost a century. The site developed good highway access and even has access to the old Frisco train yard, just south of Oklahoma City's main rail hub at Union Station.

This should be a profitable time for Boardman, which manufactures both oil field heavy equipment and defense-related products.


However, this year, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad (BNSF) cut Boardman's rail line in preparation for the relocation of the Interstate 40 Crosstown Expressway " leaving Boardman unable to ship by rail.

In the teeth of a recession and skyrocketing fuel prices, the loss is significant, according to Boardman vice president Joseph Merry. It can be five times as expensive to ship by truck as by rail, he said.

"I have a piece that's going to the Houston area," Merry said. "The truck rate is $150,000. If it could go by rail, you're probably looking in the neighborhood of $20,000 to $30,000."

That's why Merry, along with others, have filed paperwork with the federal Surface Transportation Board in opposition to the proposed relocating of the I-40 Crosstown Expressway.

"Here these jokers are removing the most economical shipping known," Merry said. "We have several customers that require us to ship by rail."

However, Merry and others are facing big-name opposition, including Mayor Mick Cornett and ODOT director Gary Ridley.

They, along with representatives of BNSF, filed a motion Aug. 4 with Anne K. Quinlan, acting secretary with the federal Surface Transportation Board, to throw out a recent judgment by the board to reopen their decision, effectively stopping construction on the proposed Crosstown.

Instead of considering the rail lines going into central Oklahoma City to be vital, Cornett said in a letter to the board that the highway and land development in downtown Oklahoma City are more important.

""¦Until this critical interstate reconstruction is completed, the aging elevated interstate creates a major barrier to the plan for redevelopment that will transform Oklahoma City. Part of this redevelopment will incorporate the changes of the new interstate alignment and world-class boulevard on the existing interstate alignment."

"Therefore," concludes Cornett's letter, "it is the City's position that the expeditious abandonment of the east-west BNSF rail line be achieved in order for the realignment of the I-40 Crosstown Expressway to be completed in a timely manner."

The filing by city and state officials follows the June 2008 decision from the Surface Transportation Board that threw out an earlier plan by BNSF to abandon a critical rail line that was to be cut by the proposed Crosstown relocation. The board ruled that BNSF falsified documents that claimed the rail line was unused.

Cornett, ODOT, BNSF and the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce are asking now that Quinlan simply throw out the case so construction can proceed. In a motion filed July 14, BNSF asked the board for a "declaratory order" eschewing any more public hearings.

"Any substantial delays in the removal of the BNSF tracks located on the corridor to be used for the Highway Project will cause construction delays and will likely result in millions of dollars of cost overruns. Expedited processing of this proceeding will limit such wasteful and unnecessary spending by ODOT," wrote Kristy Clark, an attorney for BNSF in the motion.

Common Cause community activist Edwin Kessler, whose original filing to the board highlighted the false documents that resulted in the June decision, said in a response that a new highway is the last thing Oklahoma City needs when gasoline and diesel are in short supply. He said Oklahoma City's rail infrastructure is critical to its future.

"If ODOT and its fellow road travelers chose to build a highway, Kessler simply asks that it not be done at the expense of rail infrastructure. It is also true that it is prudent to consider that the 'new Cross-town' should not be done without further recognition of the reality that motor vehicle traffic offers only a closed-ended path to a world that will be pulled up short by depleting energy supplies," the filing reads.

BNSF called Kessler and his associates, which include state Rep. Al Lindley, D-Oklahoma City, the Bio-Energy Wellness Center, and North American Transportation Institute, "zealots" who want commuter trains for Oklahoma City at the expense of the proposed Crosstown relocation. The current path, unless changed, will pave over the Union Station rail yard, according to Kessler.

"The board should not allow its good offices to be abused by a small group of zealots who believe they know how to improve the highway infrastructure in Oklahoma City," Clark wrote. "Ben Fenwick

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